Safety on the Set
Safety needs to be foremost on any set. Taking care that every procedure and every step is taken to keep... View more
Safety needs to be foremost on any set. Taking care that every procedure and every step is taken to keep your crew and talent safe is imperative.
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A FB repost from a professional armourer overseas (Malta)
A FB repost from a professional armourer overseas (Malta)
Our first post in this week’s series about our role as Film Armourers is dedicated to gun safety on set, with particular reference to the unfortunate incident which occurred last Thursday during the production of “Rust”, in which actor Alec Baldwin discharged a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza on a film set in New Mexico. This story has hit the headlines while the social media is buzzing with posts and comments that are misleading, to say the least.
It is important to open this topic with a reassuring explanation of how Film Armourer services are regulated in Malta. Given this industry’s wide contribution to our country’s economy, the authorities have by and large ensured that standards be kept as high as possible. Any person who works in the ‘Armoury Department’ must be in possession of a Film Armourer permit issued by the Commissioner of Police to persons who already hold the highest level of firearms licence, which entails being knowledgeable and experienced in firearms handling and safety. At LSB we take it a step further by only engaging licensed armourers who have considerable know how through working alongside the most experienced armourers in the world. We are fortunate that most productions in Malta were initially serviced by British armourers, who follow very strict rules when carrying out their tasks. These were our mentors. A Police permit is issued for every production after we provide the list of locations where filming is to be carried out as well as the firearms required for the task. Finally, the Police detail experienced officers who accompany our team on set.
Our inventory consists of real firearms as well as non-firing replicas. LSB has an impressive armoury which we regularly enhance with new additions to ensure that we can cover all historical periods and scenarios. We adapt our real firearms to fire blanks, using the British armourers’ methods which ensure that the firearms can be serviced and cleaned thoroughly after use, for maximum safety on set. Only blank rounds and inert dummy rounds are taken on set – live rounds should never be on set!
The firearms that we take on set are only handled by us and cast members who we have trained to use them – training sessions and/or boot camps are held before filming commences and anyone who is deemed unfit to handle firearms is asked to go back home. Moreover, we are involved in writing the mandatory risk assessment which is circulated to the cast and crew before every filming day. Once we are on set, we have the final word when firearms are to be used. The director, crew and cast cannot proceed with filming unless we give the go-ahead, after confirming that filming can be conducted safely without any danger to cast and crew. We then follow and observe every cast member carrying and/or using a real firearm.
We now come to the tragic event that occurred in New Mexico last Thursday. Based on what has been reported by trusted media sources, it would appear that some of the most fundamental rules governing the use of firearms on set were breached in the course of this production.
The BBC reports that it obtained a document showing which crew members were listed as scheduled to be on set that day, naming a 24-year-old who was fulfilling the role of head armourer for the second time in her career. According to Reuters, Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department Detective Joel Cano stated that “the assistant director who handed Baldwin the prop gun did not know it contained live rounds” and that “the prop gun was one of three on a cart outside a building. One of them was taken by the assistant director on the movie who went inside and handed it to Baldwin. As the assistant director handed the gun to the actor Alec Baldwin, (he) yelled ‘cold gun’, indicating the prop gun did not have any live rounds”.
Firstly, there should never have been any live rounds on set. Only inert rounds are used when simulating the loading of a firearm and these must be checked to ensure that the bullet is firmly attached to the cartridge. Secondly, the assistant director has no authority to handle firearms and issue them to cast members. That is strictly the armourer’s role.
If the armourer was present, she should have been in control of the situation and not allowed this to happen. Being in that role takes much more than knowing how to handle guns safely. One must be assertive and able to be on top of every move by the directors, cast and crew. This is possibly the most challenging facet of being a film armourer, as one will occasionally encounter cocky, pushy and downright arrogant characters, who must be put in their place where gun safety is concerned. On the other hand, if the armourer was not present, then firearms and their ammunition should not have been there either.
Production has a lot to answer for these serious shortcomings. Alec Baldwin, who is known to be anti-gun, is one of Rust’s two producers.
Thankfully, such tragedies are extremely rare in the movie industry. When they did happen it was invariably the result of gross negligence or budgetary restrictions that compromised safety for the sake of profit. Despite this, there are uninformed sources from within and outside the industry who question the use of real firearms in film productions. They claim that shooting could be simulated through CGI. Nothing can be further from the truth. This clearly shows their lack of understanding of how firearms function and should look on screen. Our job is to achieve the greatest level of realism with maximum attention to safety measures.
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